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Monthly Scripture Study & Reflection Mark's Gospel
|Recommended readings: Path Through Scripture by Fr. Mark Link (Paperback 1995--$14.50) An Introduction to New Testament Christology by Fr. Raymond E. Brown. Time magazine hailed Raymond Brown as "the leading U.S. Catholic authority on the Bible." In this accessible work written for all Bible students, Brown presents an intelligible introduction to the way Jesus was understood in His lifetime and in the lifetimes of His original followers.|
Mark is the shortest of all New Testament gospels and is likely the first to have been written. It often tells of Jesus' ministry in more detail than the other Gospels. It recounts what Jesus did in a vivid, almost breathless style. Mark stresses Jesus' message about the kingdom of God now breaking into human life as good news.
Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before AD 70 in Rome. Although the book is anonymous, apart from the ancient heading, "according to Mark" in manuscripts, it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark, in whose mothers house (at Jerusalem) Christians assembled (Acts 12, 12). This Mark was a cousin of Barnabas and accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Act 12,25). He also appears in Pauline letters and with Peter. The historian, Papias (circa AD 135), described him as Peters "interpreter." However, some modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria and perhaps shortly after the year 70.
We sometimes forget that Christianity began as a Jewish religion. Jesus was a Jew and all of his disciples were Jews. The only Bible they had was the Hebrew Scriptures. The only church they had was the temple and the synagogue. The first converts to the Christian Way were Jews. It wasn't until Gentiles responded to the gospel that anybody dreamed that Christianity might be anything other than a Jewish religion. That question of whether being a Christian meant being or becoming a Jew tore the early church apart. There were many that insisted that the gospel be intended for Jews and converts to Judaism. Others like Peter and Paul insisted that the gospel could not be limited to one people. They believed that the gospel was good news for Jew and Gentile, for freeman and slave, for male and female alike.
This argument would have never become as divisive as it did had those early Christians remembered some of the experiences of Jesus. For example, though he took his message to his fellow countrymen, he did not exclude the outsiders who responded to his message in faith. We read of such an occasion in Mark 7:21-30. A Greek woman, Syrophoenician by birth, humbly approached Jesus and asked him to expel a demon from her daughter. Jesus tested the seriousness of her faith by suggesting that God's healing power was restricted to his chosen people. But the woman asked for nothing more than the crumbs from the family table. Jesus was moved by her great love for her daughter and the persistence of her faith and so he granted her prayer. God hears the fervent prayer of all of his children, whatever their race, creed or color.
Jesus guided many of his miracles from his heart. In our day, a slogan guided the last two Democratic presidential campaigns: "It's the economy, stupid!" This sign, which graced campaign headquarters and dominated the thinking of political advisers, was intended to keep the focus on what really matters in American presidential elections. In his day, something similar to this arresting motto might serve as a good title for the sermon Jesus preached on the occasion described in Mark 7:14-23. "Its the heart, stupid!" He told the crowd of people that all of their external rituals of purification missed the heart of the matter. It's not eating forbidden food with unclean hands that corrupts a person. It's the wicked acts that come from the inside of a person that makes one impure. "From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, thief, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly" (Mark 7:21-22). Wicked acts come from the deepest recesses of the heart.
How often do we have to be reminded that Christianity is a religion of inward purity rather than outward show? This is not to say that outward actions are unimportant. Jesus had far too much to say about charity and chastity, about honor and honesty to think that outward behavior is of little importance to the life of faith. But he knew such behavior couldn't be imposed from the outside. It has to grow from the inside. A person's values have to be changed from the inside or his actions are little more than play-acting. Jesus knew that good hearts produce good behavior. A good tree brings-forth good fruit automatically just like a bad tree unavoidably brings forth bad fruit. The point Jesus makes in Mark then is this. When we alter our habit, we change our behavior. When we change our behavior we transform our heart and, thereby, we change our life. We become Christian. GLP
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